In the meantime, Jagger and Richards would step off their London-bound trail and head to separate colleges, Mick to the London School of Economics, Keith to Sidcup Art College, but they traveled the music scene together. For a time, they played in a band called Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys. Later, at an Alexis Korner Blues Incorporated show, they met Brian Jones, a talented blues guitarist. Jones didn't have a lot in common with the college boys: he had fathered two illegitimate children by the time he was sixteen, and he favoured the more traditional blues of slide guitarist Elmore James. (In fact, Jones had begun performing solo under the moniker of Elmo Lewis because he thought it sounded more authentic.) Jagger and Richards soon began jamming with Blues, Inc., which later acquired a drummer named Charlie Watts, and eventually Jagger became a featured singer with the outfit.
Because of their mutual love of American blues, Jagger, Richards and Jones began practicing on their own. After the trio moved into a tiny, dilapidated apartment in Edith Grove, Chelsea, they decided to form their own group and invited Dick Taylor, drummer Tony Chapman, and a boogie-woogie piano player named Ian Stewart to join. Brian Jones suggested the band call themselves the Rolling Stones, after the Muddy Waters tune "Rollin' Stone Blues," and the others, unable to come up with anything better, agreed. The newly formed band quickly cut a demo tape, which was rejected by EMI.
By 1962, the band was begging for gigs around London while practicing covers of the songs of their blues heroes such as Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. Chapman was soon replaced by a reluctant Charlie Watts, who needed months of persuasion before he agreed to join the band. Taylor was replaced not long after by bassist Bill Wyman, who was allegedly accepted into the band because he had his own amp. The Stones soon began a very successful eight-month run at the Crawdaddy Club, where they hooked up with Andrew Loog Oldham, a nineteen-year-old manager and publicist. Oldham saw the band as the antithesis of the Beatles, who had just burst onto the scene, and he began a now-infamous press campaign that asked the question, "Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone?" Oldham also decided to relegate mild-mannered Stewart to a behind-the-scenes role, where he remained as a session player and tour pianist.
Oldham quickly got the Stones signed to Decca Records, and in June of 1963, they released their first single, a cover of Chuck Berry's "Come On", backed with Willie Dixon's "I Want To Be Loved". The single was a local hit, and band's star rose quickly after that (although the producer of one British television show on which the Stones performed urged Oldham to get rid of "that vile-looking singer with the tire-tread lips"). Oldham ignored the producer's advice and booked the group for the first annual National Jazz and Blues Festival. The band's next two singles, the Beatles' "I Wanna Be Your Man," and Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" both hit the top of the British charts. Shortly afterward, they made another pair of chart-toppers, Bobby Womack's "It's All Over Now", which the band recorded at the legendary Chess studios in Chicago on their first trip to the States, and the blues classic "Little Red Rooster."
Oldham began to realize that the Stones couldn't sustain their popularity if they continued to perform other people's songs, so he finally locked Mick and Keith in his kitchen with orders not to come out until they had written something. Soon Jagger and Richards were churning out originals, one of which, "The Last Time", became a Top 10 hit in the United States. In the meantime, Oldham had continued his press campaign to paint the Stones as a bunch of incorrigibles. Stories of the band relieving themselves in public and spitting on reporters only enhanced their reputation as rock and roll rebels. During the Stones' first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, the band was deemed so lewd that Sullivan himself felt it necessary to apologize for allowing them on the air. He promised his viewers that they would never be back. Newsweek called them a leering quintet obsessed with pornographic lyrics. An English critic, somewhat more sympathetic, wrote that they were "perverted, outrageous, violent, repulsive, ugly, tasteless, incoherent, a travesty. That's what's good about them."
Oldham and the Stones had accurately gauged America's temperament. Time had begun to turn a corner, away from the respectable fifties towards a raw, rebellious decade, and the Stones were already there waiting. The band heralded the new era with a tune based on a five-note guitar riff dreamed up late one night by Richards in a Florida hotel room. Jagger added the words, "I can't get no satisfaction," and before long, the sexually-themed "Satisfaction" landed at the top of the U.S. and UK charts.
Their next singles, "Get Off of My Cloud" and "19th Nervous Breakdown" were also smash hits, and the band began a successful tour of the States. In New York, frenzied fans attacked their limousine, piling onto the top and causing the roof to cave in. In 1966, the Stones released the hugely successful and groundbreaking "Aftermath", their first album of all original material. The sitar-tinged single "Paint It Black" showed the group moving in a new musical direction, and experimenting with new sounds, mostly at the urging of Jones. But they continued their attention-getting antics, such as appearing in drag on the record sleeve for a single, "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadows", looking not at all attractive and yet strangely comfortable.
In January of 1967, the Stones, whom Ed Sullivan swore would never return to his show, were back to perform the raunchy "Let's Spend the Night Together". Jagger was warned not to sing the title line or the band would be censored, so during the song, he mumbled something along the lines of "Let's Spend Some Time Together." A month later, Jagger and Richards were arrested after police raided Richards' country estate and found a small quantity of illegal pills. The raid became infamous because of what was discovered when the cops burst in: namely eight men and one woman, and the woman attired only in a fur rug. That woman was Marianne Faithful, Mick's girlfriend at the time and the real owner of the pills. Jagger thought he was being gallant by protecting Faithful and claiming the pills as his, but after a judge sentenced him to an extraordinarily harsh three months in jail, he began to have second thoughts. On his third day behind bars, a teary Jagger was visited by Faithful, who suggested he write a song about the experience. Richards did little to help his case, telling the court at his trial, "We are young men. We are not concerned with your petty morals." But soon the musicians' high-priced lawyers had them sprung, and by the end of the month, Jagger's charges were conditionally dismissed, while Richards' conviction was overturned. The punishments given to Jagger and Richards and later Brian Jones, who was arrested in May, were seen as a message from the establishment, telling the Stones that their behaviour and influence would not be tolerated.
By June of 1967, the band stopped performing live which was for the best, since Jagger had grown disdainful of the audience, and took to making fun of them from the stage. Drug problems plagued the Stones, and as a result, the band's center began to shift. Jones had always been the group's most talented musician and as such, was looked to as the leader. But he had sunk so far into substance abuse, frequently strung-out on barbiturates, L.S.D., and alcohol, that he was no longer able to function as a musician, and Jagger assumed leadership of the band. Jones' last album as a fully functioning member of the Stones was 1967's "Their Satanic Majesties Request". The album was intended to be an answer to the Beatles' brilliant "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", but the Stones' effort did not measure up. Even Mick playing the devil could not charm the critics, who were unkind to the album.
The Stones recovered from the excesses of Satanic Majesties with the bluesy "Jumpin' Jack Flash", a Top 5 hit in May of 1968. The "Beggar's Banquet" album was supposed to be released soon after the single, but Decca's problems over controversial cover art showing a graffiti-splattered toilet, delayed the release until December. At the album's launch party, the Stones hurled custard pies into the faces of Decca executives as retribution. "Beggar's Banquet" set a new benchmark for the Stones and featured such classics as "Street Fighting Man" and "Sympathy for the Devil". The remaining Stones realized they no longer needed Jones, and on June 9, 1969, he officially left the band, saying "I no longer see eye-to-eye with the others over the discs we are cutting." It was clear that he had been fired, because within a week, the Stones had hired ex-John Mayall guitarist Mick Taylor. Jones soon announced that he was going to form his own band, but it wasn't to be. On July 3, 1969, he was found dead in his swimming pool. The official cause was recorded as "death by misadventure." A few days later, at a huge outdoor concert at London's Hyde Park, Jagger paid tribute to Jones by reading an excerpt from the poet Shelley and releasing thousands of butterflies over the park. On July 11, the day after Jones was buried, the Stones released a raunchy hit single, "Honky-Tonk Woman".
In December of 1969, "Let It Bleed" hit record stores. The disc became a bestseller with tracks like "Midnight Rambler" and "Gimme Shelter". Jones can be heard on most of the album. Gimme Shelter was chosen as the title for a film of the Stones' disastrous free concert at the Altamont Raceway in California. At the recommendation of the Grateful Dead, the Stones had hired the Hell's Angels to provide security. By the time the Stones took the stage, tensions were running high, and before the concert was stopped, a young black man by the name of Meredith Hunter was dead, stabbed to death on camera by the Angels. The concert only furthered the Stones' image as dark and menacing figures. Public outcry that their performance of "Sympathy for the Devil" had in some way incited the violence, led them to stop playing the song in public for six years.
The Los Angeles Times called the Altamont concert a "ragged, drug-ridden day," and many believed it to be a symbolic end to the era of peace and love that had been heralded a year earlier at Woodstock. A new decade was sweeping the world towards a self-indulgent, pop-cultural junkyard where rebels like the Rolling Stones had precious little left to rebel against. Their Satanic Majesties were in danger of becoming obsolete.
In 1971 the Stones jumped on the new decade with both feet. They released "Sticky Fingers" which featured an Andy Warhol-designed sleeve depicting a very male crotch complete with working zipper on their new label, Rolling Stones Records (the label's logo was designed by John Pasche and featured a caricature of Jagger's full lips and tongue). The album showed the band moving in new directions, from the jazz-tinged "You Hear Me Knockin" to the country-influenced "Dead Flowers" and "Wild Horses" to the hazy "Sister Morphine" and overtly sexual "Brown Sugar".
The double-album "Exile on Main Street" was released in 1972, and while at the time critics skewered it as self-indulgent, it came to be regarded as one of the band's best records. The country influence continued on "Exile", a sound that can be traced directly to Keith's friendship with Gram Parsons of the Flying Burrito Brothers. The album also featured gospel ("I Just Want To See His Face"), blues ("Tumblin' Dice," "Shake Your Hips"), and full-on rock and roll ("Rip This Joint"). The Stones soon embarked on an ambitious and very successful U.S. tour.
On the heels of Exile came 1973's "Goat's Head Soup", which some have dubbed the Stones' worst album ever. Even classic singles such as "Angie" and "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)" could not undo the excesses of songs such "Star Fucker". "It's Only Rock and Roll", released a year later, contained some outstanding tracks, including the title tune, a fiery cover of "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," and "Time Waits for No One", but it too, wasn't up to the band's earlier work. Mick Taylor decided he'd had enough, and quit the band. "The fact is I was becoming stagnant and lazy with the Stones," he told Rolling Stone. "I really got off on playing with them, but it wasn't enough of a challenge." After auditioning such musicians as Jeff Beck and Peter Frampton, the band selected Faces guitarist Ron Wood as Taylor's replacement. "Black and Blue", Wood's first album as a Stone, was released in 1976, and the band had yet another Top 10 hit with "Fool To Cry." Another tour of the States unveiled the now-famous lotus stage and a giant inflatable penis. The bad boys of rock and roll still refused to grow up.
Throughout much of the seventies, Richards was battling a heroin problem, and in 1977, it caught up with him. He and his lover, Anita Pallenberg were arrested for heroin possession in Toronto, Canada, where the Stones were playing some club dates to prepare for a live album. Richards escaped jail time partly through the intervention of a young blind woman, who convinced the judge to release him in exchange for playing a benefit for the blind. Richards left the country and sought treatment in the U.S. "Drugs were never a problem," Richards said. "Policemen were a problem."
"Some Girls", released in 1978, was the Stones biggest-selling album yet, and the singles "Miss You" and "Shattered" both went up the charts. It was also the finest album the Stones had put out in years, proving that even with the string of mediocre albums of the seventies, they could still produce fine work. The band also came back strong in 1981 with "Tattoo You". While not up to the standards of "Some Girls", it was still a huge hit, yielding such classics as "Start Me Up" and "Waiting On A Friend." The Tattoo You mega-tour was one of the first "event" concerts ever produced, and it became the top-grossing tour in rock and roll history. The image of Mick wrapped in an American flag while running from one end of the colossal stage to the other was captured in the concert film "Let's Spend the Night Together". The giant production, the American flag, the later commercial exploitation of "Start Me Up", all pointed out how the Stones had embraced the eighties as fully as they had the previous two decades.
By 1983, the Stones had secured a record deal with CBS worth a reported $28 million for four studio albums. "Undercover", the first album released under the deal, was unsteady, and there were whispers that the Stones were slipping with age. Still, the single "Undercover Of The Night", backed by a video directed by Julian Temple showing Mick being executed and Richards in skull mask and gun, was a Top 10 hit.
At this point, Jagger decided to take a break from the Stones and release a solo album, but the world was not ready for a Stone alone, and his "She's the Boss" album didn't sell. The 1986 Stones' album "Dirty Work" continued the band's downward spiral, which was exacerbated by the death of Ian Stewart near the end of the album sessions. The sixth member of the Stones, who had been with them from the beginning, died of a heart attack at the age of forty-seven. "We all felt the glue had come unstuck," said Keith.
Jagger opted out of the expected tour in support of "Dirty Work" and produced another solo effort instead. Richards viewed it as a betrayal. The duo, once known as the Glimmer Twins, began a very public feud. The video for "One Hit To The Body" shows the two engaging in some very physical interplay, not all of which was done for the camera. Jagger's second album, "Primitive Cool", once again failed to establish him as a solo presence, but he embarked on a very successful tour of Japan and Australia. Richards, in response, released his own solo album, the critically acclaimed "Talk Is Cheap", and launched a U.S. tour with his backup band, the X-Pensive Winos. A cut off his album, "You Don't Move Me," was a direct fire at Jagger, and did nothing to mend relations.
The Stones' induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame came in early 1989, and Mick, Keith, Ron Wood, and Mick Taylor were on hand for the ceremony. The Who's Pete Townshend, in his induction speech, advised the Stones not to grow old gracefully. "It wouldn't suit you," he said. Not long afterward, Mick and Keith met in Barbados to see if they could still work together without killing one another. Within two months, they had twelve new tunes written, and the whole group assembled to work them into shape. "Steel Wheels" was completed in only five weeks, and it was a huge improvement over recent Stones efforts. "Mixed Emotions," the album's first single, was a hit, while ballads such as "Almost Hear You Sigh" and "Slippin' Away" recalled the days of "Wild Horses." The group announced a world tour sponsored by Anheuser Busch that featured a stage set not to be believed. Smoke and fire combined with girders, funnels, catwalks, a giant inflatable "Honky Tonk Woman" and Mick's appearance from a hundred feet above the stage for "Sympathy for the Devil" were only a part of the Steel Wheels spectacle. The tour was a huge success, with the band eventually playing 115 shows to over six million people. Rolling Stone Magazine's annual readers' and critics' polls selected the Stones as the Best Band and Artist of the Year, while "Steel Wheels" was chosen Best Tour. Not bad for a group of guys closing in on fifty.
The release of the live album "Flash Point" in 1991 was greeted with a collective yawn, and the group took a break to pursue other projects, coming together long enough to sign another lucrative record deal, this time with Virgin. By 1993, Wyman announced he wanted out, and Richards admitted that he did "everything but hold him at gunpoint" to get him to stay. By the summer of 1994, the Stones had another album and world tour ready to roll, and despite criticism that the album was just an excuse to hit the road, the Voodoo Lounge tour was another huge success. In many ways, the timing was perfect. The early nineties had seen a number of successful stadium tours by artists like Paul McCartney and U2. A resurgent Rolling Stones fit perfectly into concert goers' plans.
In the last few years, the Stones have kept a lower profile. Jagger continued to pursue a film career, now as a producer; Richards made another solo album and Charlie Watts, who has aged the most gracefully of all of the Stones, released an album with his jazz quintet featuring covers of songs by Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, and other legendary composers.
The Fall of 2005 saw the band kick off their Bigger Bang tour, which played to sold out arenas and stadiums all over the world. The trek came to a close in November, 2006 and was the top grossing tour of the year, earning about $437 million. On March 24th 2007, the band announced a tour of Europe called the Bigger Bang 2007, and June of that year saw the release of the band's second four-disc DVD set: The Biggest Bang, a seven-hour documentary featuring shows from around the world. In October of that year, Mick Jagger released a compilation of his solo work called "The Very Best of Mick Jagger" and ABKCO records issued "Rolled Gold: The Very Best of the Rolling Stones", a double-CD remake of the 1975 compilation "Rolled Gold". The reissue went to number 26 in the UK chart.
On April 17th, 2010, The Stones released the single, "Plundered My Soul" in honor of Record Store Day. The track, part of the group's 2010 re-issue of "Exile on Main St.", was backed by "All Down the Line" as the B-side of a seven inch vinyl disc. When "Exile on Main St." was re-released on May 23rd, it shot straight to number one on the UK chart, nearly 38 years after it first accomplished that feat. In America, it entered the Billboard Hot 200 at number two. On October 11th of that same year, the Stones released the film Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones to theatres and later to DVD. The live performance was recorded during four shows in Texas in 1972. This success was followed by The Rolling Stones: Some Girls Live In Texas '78 being released to cinemas in October, 2011.
In March, 2012, The Stones announced a 50th Anniversary photographic autobiography, to be published on July 12th, to mark the band’s first ever gig in 1962. However, they also revealed that they will not tour to celebrate their golden anniversary, saying that they aren't ready to hit the road just yet. At the end of August the band introduced a documentary that traces their colorful 50-year journey titled "Crossfire Hurricane", set for release in some British cinemas in October and slated for HBO in America on November 15. September brought news of another greatest hits collection entitled "GRRR!", which includes two newly recorded songs, "Gloom And Doom" and "One Last Shot", slated for release on November 13th. Past members, bassist Bill Wyman and guitarist Mick Taylor were slated to join the band at London's O2 Arena for a pair of gigs in late November.
In late March, 2013, The Stones announced that they would play Britain’s famed Glastonbury music festival for the first time in their career. Speculation was also rife that they would launch a full series of world-wide concerts, which would be the band’s first since their 2005-2007 A Bigger Bang tour. On April 27th, the band played a surprise gig for fans in Los Angeles, a week ahead of kicking off their 50 And Counting tour, a two month jaunt which marks 50 years in the music business. Following two shows in London's Hyde Park, the band was slated to take some time off, although Mick Jagger told the press, "I'm always writing new songs so hopefully we'll do new songs one of these days soon."
The Stones' 2014 tour of Australia and New Zealand was postponed following the death of Mick Jagger's longtime girlfriend, fashion designer L'Wren Scott, who was found dead in her Manhattan apartment on March 17th. Jagger's representative said the singer was "completely shocked and devastated by the news." The band resumed their world tour on May 26th in Oslo, Norway. In February, 2015, Ronnie Wood told reporters that the band would be returning to North America for another series of Summer shows.
In mid-April, 2015, former Stones bassist, 78-year-old Bill Wyman announced that he would release "Back to Basics", his first solo album in 33 years, on June 22nd on Proper Records.
For more, be sure to read Gary James' interviews with
Stone's guitarist Mick Taylor
and manager Andrew Loog Oldham